RALEIGH — On the opening day of a civil trial against Greg Brannon, an attorney for the U.S. Senate candidate on Tuesday denied he misled investors, setting up a he-said, he-said case that will force the jury to decide who is more believable.
The civil lawsuit against Brannon and a co-defendant centers on whether they told two investors incorrect information about a major potential opportunity for their company, Neogence Enterprises, and mobile giant Verizon. In a 2010 email from Greg Brannon to investors, he promoted the meeting as a big deal for the startup tech company, but his attorney suggested he was given bad information from a sales officer and didn’t know it.
“If anything they were telling (investors) was untrue, they were unaware,” said attorney Mike Frazier, in his opening statement defending Brannon and company fo-founder Robert Rice.
The deal never materialized and the company shuttered its doors in 2011. The investors sued to recover the money they lost and damages from Brannon and Rice.
It’s the timing of the trial that makes it remarkable. Brannon is campaigning for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate as a tea party candidate backed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and FreedomWorks, a grassroots organization. He refused to settle the case and said he eagerly awaited his day in court.
But Brannon is now off the campaign trail as his rivals file their candidacy papers while at the same time trying to raise money to put his TV ad on the air. His campaign sent an email from the candidate about the ad Monday during a break in jury selection. At some point in the trial, Brannon is expected to take the stand in his defense.
Brannon’s friend, Larry Piazza, a Maine eye surgeon who put $200,000 into the company, testified Tuesday about the moment in May 2012 when he realized the Verizon opportunity was bogus. “I was bewildered,” he told jurors. “I felt a great sense of betrayal of trust.”
The other investor, Sam Lampuri, told jurors about getting a call from Piazza soon after. He was in his living room cleaning up his kids’ toys: “You know when you’re on the phone with someone and you can just tell something’s bothering them, and I said, ‘What’s the problem? What’s wrong?’ and he said, ‘You’re never going to believe it.’
“And I said, ‘Well, what’s the problem?’ He said, ‘Well, do you remember the Verizon deal?’ And I said, ‘You know, of course. It was the biggest thing we had. Of course I remember the Verizon deal.’ And he said, ‘It was all a lie. It was just a made up story.’”
A video deposition from the Neogence’s sales officer, John Cummings – who had the meeting with Verizon officials in New York – will play for jurors Wednesday. The threat of inclement weather may delay the proceedings.